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A Little Insight Into “Show Dough”



Occassionally, I’m going to do a little feature called call-up madness, explained, where I’ll answer any questions you have (email me) about what goes on behind the scenes of an NHL farm system.  Today, I’ll talk about something I never personally got to experience, but still know how it works from being around it.  You know, the part of playing professionally where you get rich: the NHL call-up, and how it affects your bankroll.

I go forehand, he gets back to jam his toe - and the puck - against the post.

“Show Dough” is the term used to describe making NHL money by everyone not making it, AKA players in the AHL/ECHL and beneath.  The term is best served slathered in jealousy and bitterness.

You’ve heard the all-too-true stories: guy signs a big deal and has a Cadillac Escalade by the end of the week, cause, y’know, how else are people gonna know he makes show dough if he keeps his old car? (See how nicely the bitterness sets off the phrase?)

One of the fun parts about playing professional hockey below the Escalade pay-grade is that you get used to the fact that you could be rich or broke with a call-up or send down on any given day.  You have to, or you’d go crazy trying to Gilloly your teammates (that reference too dated yet?), so you sort of get numb to the whole thing.

What this means is, sometimes the mook who accidentally drinks his own chew spit, has no front teeth and made out with that chick-at-the-bar-that-turned-out-to-be-a-dude will just suddenly get “rich” when the phone rings one day.  It’s really weird to see who changes (and how) with the show dough earned from a call-up.

When guys permanently make it, they tend to quickly adjust to the next tax bracket, so they don’t really appreciate it like the guys who only get to go up for a couple days – because that couple days of show dough sounds glorious.

To over-simplify, league minimum is somewhere around (or maybe a bit above now) $450,000.00 a year, so getting called up for ONE SINGLE DAY is pro-rated to $3,000.00 in your bank acount, $2,000.00ish after taxes.  That means a week in the bigs equals $21k, $14 after tax. 

In Bridgeport, staring at the Sound, fantasizing about show dough.

These call ups are for real.

For a guy making $50,000 a year, a very common AHL amount, a few day call up is a nice kick in the pants.  And for guys who have an NHL deal that make more than the minimum when they go up, it starts getting crazy.  Upon getting sent back to Bridgeport with the rest of us shlubs, Jeff Tambellini told me that his call-up (around three weeks or so) had earned him more than he made over the six/seven months of the entire AHL season.

So often, you’ll see a guy who gets called up to an NHL team for a few games get sent down for the two days between games, and fans go “well what the hell was that all about?” — and the answer is pretty obvious.  If a guy is making $300 a day in AHL, they stand to save $2,700 for every day they don’t have to have the kid practice, travel, or rest on an NHL roster (also why it’s nice to have your affiliate team close).  Clearly, not the best thing for the kids ability to succeed, but hey, them’s the breaks - you can take the days you get or don’t, bud.

Just thought I’d fill-in those of you who didn’t know how call-ups got paid, because hey, I’m here to help.

Next week in call-up madness, explained: coaches that dress extra guys for warm-up, then tap one or two of them on the shoulder to tell them they aren’t playing, just before the game…. and why they should be ice-picked in the face for doing it.

Used to collect $32 a day in meal money with me in Utah. Not no more.

{Note: at Islander camp, we got $100 a day for meal money, in an envelope just stuffed with hundreds for the week ….and they provided two meals a day, including an omlette station with our buffet breakfast.  Guys under contract got $1500 for the week for “meals”, somehow.  ECHL “per diem” as they eloquently call meal money (which you only get on the road, of course), is up to $34 a day.}


21 Responses to “A Little Insight Into “Show Dough””
  1. ms.conduct says:

    Always really happy for a guy to get the call for lots of reasons, not the least of which they can get themselves into a little bit nicer suits. And that’s a win for everybody.

    Would love to hear how much of that the guys actually don’t end up seeing due to whatever expenses there are in the business. Like agents and whatnot. Assuming that’s a factor. Maybe it’s not.

    My goalie pal in the CHL tells me his team only buys him one set of gear a season. If he wants more, he has to buy it himself. But be sure and win the championship in those shrunken, limp pillows, son.

  2. St. Cloud Gopher says:

    I always get a kick out of the per diem thing. I completely understand it for the AHL-level, as 50 grand (I can’t believe I’m gonna say this) may not be enough.
    But at the NHL level, especially for guys under contract, what are they using that $1500 for? Tips?
    Seriously, take that grand-and-a-half away from Pronger, and use it to give Joe Blow-nosebleed-season-ticket-holder a free night in a suite.
    Question with “show dough” as it pertains to being sent back down: Is that guy responsible for an all inclusive hella-party at some point in the season? You know, “Hey, with that extra couple grand, you could throw a decent shindig for the boys. No? Well, hope you like your Navi in a light pink.”

  3. Rudy says:

    Blog post idea — How much do you guess does everyone get paid. Announcers, stick boys, refs, Al Strachan, owners, the dude that parks Kris Draper’s car at the Joe…all of them at each level; NHL, AHL, ECHL Juniors etc.

  4. John Bordelon says:

    I understand that the NHL teams are limited to 50 contracted players. How does that fit with all of the prospects/draft picks in juniors and minors?

  5. ann says:

    In the age before the salary cap, I don’t remember the back and forth as much with guys in the AHL to the NHL for “days off”. Now teams have to “save” that extra money, so they don’t end up like the Flames at the end of last season, unable to call anyone up to replace the injured guys and playing two skaters short. But then again, that’s a “cap management” lesson I guess – don’t get yourself so close that you put your other players in danger.

    I do remember that happening a lot with the Phantoms though. It was very easy to tell the kid to go across the hall to the Phantoms locker room since they were in the same facility, rather than, say, tell him he has to drive 5 hours to Glens Falls now.

    Along the lines of what ms.conduct said, I remember being told a story about an ECHL team who as they beat teams in the playoffs, took the defeated team’s sticks with them, because they were almost out of sticks. Surprisingly, that team doesn’t exist anymore.

  6. Madeleine says:

    This is why I love your blog. I never think about things like this, but yet they’re fascinating to read about. How much do players in the CHL make?

  7. jtbourne says:

    Great questions, I’ll save the answers for future entries on call-ups. But Madeline, your question is more easily answered – less than NHL per diem. Usually in the the $300-$500 a week range (yes, before tax), with exceptions probably up to around $900 a week). Worst part is, they don’t start getting paid until the regular season, and the lower leagues need to know who’s available from the higher ones, so the lower you go, the later you start. Since you get your first paycheck about three weeks after you start earning, I bet the CHL guys don’t get paid til almost November, and the season will end in April. It’s a tough go.

  8. Matt says:


    It’s 50 contracts total. Everyone on the NHL team, and all the guys in the minors/juniors who have two-way deals.

  9. Char says:

    A Lincoln Navigator? Seriously?

  10. jtbourne says:

    Honestly, no, pretty much everyone gets Escalades. I’m going back and changing that.

  11. TS says:

    I know a couple of guys that go up and were probably only gonna play a game or two and then get sent back down…..but oops they tweek a knee when they are in the “show” and get the big bucks until healthy. Not many times as a player you are asking for an injury, but a 4-6 week MCL sprain would do just fine!!

  12. minnesotagirl71 says:

    I wish that every guy who got an NHL (or any other professional sport) contract would also be assigned a financial advisor. I’m guessing that when young men, who most likely think they are indestructable, start making half a million or more per year, they don’t really think about planning for their retirement. Even if they achieve success in the NHL and manage to avoid a career ending injury, their choice of profession does not lend itself to longevity. I hear about these 22 year olds signing huge contracts and I hope that they are putting some away for the future….

  13. djimass says:

    What about the “black aces” during the playofffs? Since the NHL salary is only for the regular season, do those AHL call-ups get paid anything when they are up after their AHL team is eliminated?

  14. garett says:

    and when we get that amazing $34 dollars a day on the road in cities like vegas it gets very fun..$40 for 2 beers and 2 shots..thanks big guys..dang

  15. Madeleine says:

    ouch, that’s brutal about CHL players. makes me want to go to the games and throw money at them. though they might think that means something else.

  16. Corkdork says:

    For guys in the ECHL/AHL who got called up to the NHL during times when their NHL team is not playing (eg, during the Olympic break), do they get full NHL pay as well? If so, I can think of some guys in Florida who got a pretty sweet deal last month…

    Out of curiosity, how much does a guy in the various minor leagues (ECHL, SPHL, etc) make? I mean, what’s the range like (say, complete rookie, midline player, and top-prospect/franchise player)? I’ve always been curious to know, as I always suspected that the ECHL guys need a job in the offseason (and I know that the SPHL guys always seem to work at something else offseason — landscaping and construction seemed popular…) to make ends really meet.

  17. Kerstin says:

    @minnesotagirl71: Great comment about the financial advisors. I’m absolutely with you!

    On the other hand I fear THEY HAVE such advisors.
    But not all of them might have the good intention to have them put somehting away for the future (which is quite closer than for a clerk who works 50 years in a cubicle… at what age does the average hockey-player retire and has to check for new ways to secure income..hmmm?)
    Advisors whether professional or semi-professional (family?) too often might have their own piece of the cake in mind…

    I’m fine with “overaverage” payments for hockey players in general (since they sacrifice their body at a young age and might have to deal with injuries for the rest of their live… missing teeth seems only a small part of that).
    But like in all sports… there should be a cap.
    In all sports you have people that “earn” so much money that they (should) never be able to spend it all in their life (IF they live halfway a “normal” life… not every time the ashtray is full a new Cadillac Escalade etc.).
    At a certain (money) stage it just comes to modern human trafficking…

  18. marshall22 says:

    I really enjoyed this article, keep it coming!

  19. Going back to the CHL players – starting to see why some of them come to the UK now! $300-$500 is roughly £200-£350ish (depending on exchange rate). I’ll bet most North American players in the UK Elite League (and even the next leaguer down, the Premier League) will be getting more than that to play here


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